Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Heifer International

Nathan Bransford has offered to donate $1 to Heifer International for each comment left on his blog today. Heifer International is a wonderful charity that helps promote sustainable growth and alleviation of poverty. Please visit their site and check them out.

Nathan also encouraged his readers to make similar offers. Well, I'm throwing my hat into the ring. I'll donate $1 to Heifer International for each comment left on this blog entry today. Nathan has very generously offered to donate up to $1000 dollars. Someday I'll boldly match him. I'm going to cap my contribution at $150.

If you're a writer, please tell us about your book/manuscript and leave a link to your site.

All the best!


*edit* I've decided to extend this until December 30th. Keep the comments coming!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Drive-by Hi

I'd really love to give you a nice long blog post.

But I'm not going to. Every minute I spend on a blog post is a minute I'm not editing my novel. Last week was a bad week for editing. So this is going to be a drive-by, "Hi!"

I'm off to edit. See ya later!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Progress Report

Turkey Day Weekend has been excellent so far. I've made great progress with editing. I always have the huge hurdle of getting past the many excellent writing blogs I follow before I actually get into my own work. I'd say they put me back a good hour tonight. It's after midnight and I've been going full steam ahead for the past two hours and I have to stop. ARRGH! Amelia will be bouncing on my head sometime around 7:30AM and I need to get some sleep. Otherwise I'll be one comatose daddy tomorrow morning.

Still on target to start querying the first week of the New Year!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Over and over I have read that the first few pages are critical if you want to grab an agent. And so the fear sets in. It would be awful to lose a chance at getting published due to a weak first 600 words! With these thoughts on my mind, I've been putting a lot of effort into my opening pages.

The opening scene involves my protagonist, Hadde, tracking a raiding party heading for her home village. The raiders are nervous that they are about to be ambushed. My struggle in writing this scene was in how to describe the nervousness of the raiders. My initial efforts involved a lot of telling and little showing. I was doing a lot of things like this:

The Kiremi, with their bright tunics and curved bows, warily scanned the forest.

They seemed weary and defeated, not like the last time they had stormed her village.

The problem was in describing someone who was nervous, without saying, "They were nervous." Fidgeting with their weapons seemed pretty weak.

I went to my friend, Mike Shultz, and asked his opinion. He thought I should show the Kiremi raiders reacting to something. Something like a falling tree branch that startles them. VOILA!

I posted my new opening at the Evil Editor's website. We'll see what his minions have to say about it. The revised opening is down in the comments. You can compare it to the original and see if you think it has improved much.

If you don't feel like rooting through the Evil Editor site to find my revisions you can see my opening here. The link takes you to a google doc where the opening is a work in progress. If you scroll down you can see revisions and comments made by my critique partner.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What I've Been Reading

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

The Road might just be the best book I have ever read. It is gripping, grim, and wonderfully written. If dark isn't your thing, you might want to pass. Everyone else must read this book.

Funeral Games, by Christian Cameron

This is the third book in Cameron's Tyrant series. I've loved the entire series. Cameron does a wonderful job making the third century BC come alive. He writes the best historical fiction I have ever read. Funeral Games follows the story of the twin children of Kineas (the primary protagonist of the first two novels).

, by Christopher Moore

A very funny, very irreverent book about the "missing years" of Jesus Christ's life. I loved it. It isn't anti-religion, but I could see how a very religious person could be offended by it. Despite it's irreverence, it is very sympathetic to Jesus' life and message.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cover Art

My previous post focused on my former students, Sam Tsui and Kurt Schneider, and their musical talents. I also mentioned that Sam did the painting of Hadde of Landomere you see on the blog. I first learned of Sam's artistic talent when he was a sophomore in high school. Toward the end of the school year I went to our school's art show and saw this piece of art:

I was so impressed that I asked Sam to paint Hadde for me. I wanted a sketch of her as well as a cover for my novel. I gave Sam the first three chapters of the manuscript and a description of what I was looking for. In short order he produced this:

I love what he did. The scene is from a fight that takes place in chapter one. It is a brutal fight that sets the dark, serious tone for the book. Tension is critical for a fantasy novel, and in chapter one we discover that Hadde lives in a world full of peril. In fact, it is a world in peril.

Will this be the actual cover of the novel? I'm sure it won't. The publisher will have their artists create the real thing. Sam's cover serves another purpose. I had him blow it up to poster size, and it now hangs on the wall in my office. It is wonderful inspiration for what I hope to accomplish.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

My Famous Former Students

Two of my former students are experiencing some tremendous YouTube success. So much success that they were interviewed on national television by Bonnie Hunt. I taught Kurt Schneider and Sam Tsui in my AP Economics class. They were the kind of student a teacher never forgets. Kurt was an amazing mathematician who never opened his economics book once the entire year. He didn't need to. Sam added acting and artistic talent to his academic achievements. He's responsible for the sketch of Hadde you see on the blog. He also made an Eternal Knight book cover for me. I'll add the cover to a later blog entry. Check them out:

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I am a Wargamer

What's wargaming?

Wargaming is a hobby that involves using painted lead soldiers, models, dice, and rulers to recreate historical, fantasy, or sci-fi battles. There are two very different aspects of the hobby. One half is the collecting and painting of the figures. The other half is the fighting of the battles. I've been wargaming since the mid 90's. This includes both friendly matches and tournaments.

What does wargaming have to do with Eternal Knight?

The novel is a fantasy novel, and as such includes elements of magic and the supernatural. However, I like to think of it as an uber-realistic and gritty fantasy novel. The willing suspension of disbelief is tremendously important to me. I want you to believe in what is happening on the page. This is especially important in action and battle sequences. As soon as the reader frowns at the novel and says, "That can't happen!" the writer has lost. Wargaming has been hugely helpful to me in two ways.

First of all it has made me very well versed in the history of warfare and military technology. A history nut will recognize that I've set the technology level of the novel at approximately 1350 CE (in Western Europe). I chose that technology level, and I stuck to my guns. You won't find wildly incongruous combinations of weapons and armor. I once read a fantasy novel in which one of the protagonists (unarmored and wielding a rapier) defeated a plate armor clad knight. Of course he won because the knight was so encumbered by his armor that he could barely move. AARRGG! It was a ridiculous depiction of what this combat would have looked like in real life. If armor so encumbered knights that they could be defeated in such a manner, knights never would have worn so much armor.

Wargaming has also helped me understand the big picture of a battle. The rules include elements such as morale and fatigue. Fantasy novels are filled wiht armies fighting to the death. Except in rare circumstances, this just doesn't happen. Fear and fatigue take a terrible toll on armies. Self-preservation is a powerful motivator--I don't care if you are a human, a goblin, or a dragon. Now, sometimes in history a unit has managed to fight its way out of impossible odds. It happens in wargaming as well. But when it happens in a book, the author needs to work twice as hard and make me BELIEVE IT!

If you'd like to take a look at some of my historical wargaming tournament battles just follow this link.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kindle on the iPhone

Nathan Bransford recently wrote a post about e-books, Kindle, and the iPhone. He was so enthusiastic about the iPhone Kindle app that I went out and downloaded it (for free). I needed a book to read so went to Amazon and downloaded ($7.50) Philip Pullman's, The Golden Compass.

Wow! This is fantastic! The iPhone is easy to read on and the application is simple to use. You'd think it would be difficult to read on the small screen. Nope. Since you can use your finger to sweep to the next page, there is no interruption to your reading as you advance. Text size is adjustable and the screen lighting is variable to fit your current reading conditions.

I've wasted a lot of down time (waiting in line, Dr's office, daughter's gymnastics lesson, etc.) with iPhone games. Now I have a novel in my pocket any time I want it. My consumption of novels has significanly decreased over the past few years--no more. I have a feeling I'll be consuming a lot more books in the coming months.

Oh, so far (the first 15 pages or so) The Golden Compass is excellent.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Very Cool

My friend, Mike Shultz, took me to New York City to have lunch with his editor (Carsten Polzin of Piper Fantasy) yesterday. Carsten was in New York for a few days of business following Worldcon in Montreal the previous week.

Carsten "discovered" Mike's novel, Sword of Memory, after reading one of his short stories and checking out the link to Mike's website. Carsten saw that Mike was working on a novel and asked to take a look at the manuscript. One thing led to another and Mike now finds himself in the unusual situation of having his novel published in German before being published in English.

We ate at the Gramercy Tavern on East 20th street. I was very impressed. Great service, excellent food, and wonderful beer. It was made all the better when Carsten announced at the beginning of the meal that his publishing house was picking up the bill. Cheers to Piper Fantasy.

We spent at good two hours talking about the path Mike's novel would follow to publication, the publishing industry in general, and fantasy in specific. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire affair. It was just plain cool to find myself sitting in a restaurant in the publishing capital of the world talking to an editor. I couldn't help but imagine that somewhere, just a few blocks (or so) from my table, my future agent and publisher were waiting for my manuscript.

Much appreciation to Mike for taking me along, and to Carsten for both the meal and conversation.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

In the dumps

Feeling blue. This project is taking forever and I just can't find the time it needs. My manuscript needs to be as perfect as I can possibly make it before I even query an agent. At this point I'm thinking "as perfect as I can possibly make it" just won't be good enough. How many more hours do I pour into a project that will never see the light of day? Do I even have the writing chops to get something published? How many hours of study and practice will it take to gain the necessary skills?


So what's keeping me going?
1) I absolutely believe that I've created a great story.
2) The rewards (I'm not talking money--I'm not that big a fool) of successfully getting published will be phenomenal.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Evil Editor

I put my opening 200+ words on Evil Editor. 17 Comments so far. Nothing too brutal. I confused some readers in the second paragraph with my description of the Kiremi raiders. They also wanted a minor character (Geros) mentioned earlier. Several readers said that they would read further. Overall it was a positive experience.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Back in the Saddle

Sort of fell out of the saddle for the past week. No blogging, worse yet, no writing. I'm back into it tonight. Working on the critical first three chapters. When you're querying cold you really need to land the hook in the first three chapters. My friend Kemp is helping with the polishing process. I really need to set aside a specific time for writing. Pre-child it was very easy to do. Not so much any more.

Best wishes to my friend Mike Shultz. He just recently started the query process. Let's hope for lots of requests for complete manuscripts.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Paying Attention

I am a much different reader than I used to be. I used to blast through books, barely taking in the details as I rushed to finish the story. That's all that mattered to me...story. It's a problem for me now. I have a great story to tell, but I need to take to the time to set the scene and write the emotions and describe the details. It's not enough that they're all in my head. I have to get it down on the page.

That's what I'm doing right now. One more trip through the manuscript, making sure that I've dotted the i's and crossed the t's. I want the world of Eternal Knight to be as real to the reader as it is in my head.

I've been re-reading two novels in an effort to capture how the authors handle description and narration. One is George R. R. Martin's, A Game of Thrones, and the other is Christian Cameron's, Tyrant. I love the way these two authors write.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Progress Report

Slow but steady progress on editing. I'm going to revamp my time schedule for the query process. I'm thinking August 1st right now. It's been very hectic around the house finishing up landscaping and getting ready for a family reunion. Things should quiet down next week.

I'm very happy with the last batch of changes I've made. Kemp's suggestions have been a huge help. I'm not worried about the delay in querying--writing doesn't pay the bills around here. I needs to make the manuscript as flawless as possible before I launch it into the world.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Rainy Day

Yet another rainy Pennsylvania day. My daughter and I pulled out the paint and markers and got to work on some art projects.

I tried to get her to stick around for the photo, but she bailed on me. She painted a nice forest scene as well a the sun shining on some flowers. I decided to do some Eternal Knight images.

The top image is Helna's Orb. It appears in the novel as a pendant on a necklace worn by the protagonist, Hadde. Helna is the creator goddess in the mythology of the Eternal Knight world.

The lower image is the face of the shield, Forsvar. The shield differs from the other shields in the novel as it is a round shield--the others are heater shields (you'll see some below). Forsvar is 500 years old and there have been changes in arms and armor since its creation.

The crossed warhammers on a white field are the coat of arms of Earl Waltas. White is the color of the South Teren of Salador and is often worn by its nobles.

The yellow dragon on a blue field is the coat of arms of Maiden Maret's family. I'd have to look in the manuscript to be certain, but it might be a blue dragon on a yellow field. Blue is the color of the East Teren of Salador.

Red if the color of the Royal House of Salador. Unlike the individual coats of arms worn by nobles, all of the Knights of the House carry the same shield. The Knights of the House are the elite profession soldiers in direct service to King Boradin. I am unhappy with the piece of "art". The lightning image should look like the one on the shield Forsvar. Sir Nidon, the Champion of Salador, carries a plain red shield in order to distinguish him from all other knights.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I sent my last chapters to my "final reader" last night. Kemp is giving me one last round of feedback from the perspective of someone who has never seen any part of the novel before. He's already given me loads of excellent advice. So far he hasn't found any critical flaws--things what would need a major overhaul.

Today I'll start a final run through the book incorporating changes Kemp has recommended and fixing any bugs that I discover. I think this process will take about two weeks. After that it's agent query time.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Agent Dreams

Last night I dreamt I was in New York City looking for a hotel room. I came upon a row of townhouses and each home had a sign in front advertising itself as a bed and breakfast.

Every single sign had the name of an agent I've researched for future solicitation for representation. I remember wondering if staying at their bed and breakfast would help my chances at signing with them. I also remember comparing prices and peeking in the windows to see how clean and welcoming each B+B was.

It's so funny how the subconscious mind works. More than any time in the past I really think my novel will be published. With each passing day I grow more and more excited for the possibilities for my manuscript. With each passing day I also come closer to sending out that first batch of queries.

I also dreamt of receiving a stack of envelopes in the mail. I couldn't bear to open them. Phone calls are good. Emails can be good. SASE envelopes are not good. I've received some of those envelopes before. They are where the fleeting dream hits the hard wall of reality.

Getting published is a difficult road to travel. That's what will make success that much sweeter.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Back at it

Final exams are graded and my seniors are long gone. Time to get back to work on Eternal Knight.

The good news: My friends Mike and Kemp have been giving me some great feedback on the manuscript. The reworked manuscript will be greatly improved due to their advice.

The downside: My query letters will be delayed by about a month. All for the better. I want to put forward the best piece of writing possible.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Funny how I can wake up at the crack of dawn for a Saturday morning bike ride, but on a weekday..... snooze button again and again.

By 6AM I was on the road heading toward the village of Skippack. It's a hilly out and back ride of fifteen miles through some pretty Pennsylvania countryside.

While I ride I think about my novel (usually a part I've been working on recently). I often have a song running through my head as well. I don't listen to my iPod as I would like to live to see my next birthday. The song that runs through my head is often one that I recently heard. In this case it was (unfortunately) a parody of Meat Loaf song. I like Meat Loaf, but was irritated that I had this parody song stuck in my head. Luckily I managed to switch it to another song. Now, I'm no fan of High School Musical (I've never seen any of the films), but this is the song that got stuck in my head:

The singer and the video editor/pianist are both former students of mine. Sam (the singer) also painted the picture of Hadde you see on the blog.

But that isn't what this post is about.

As I was riding back home this morning I was going up a long gradual slope. I took the time to check out the scenery (I was near Evansburg State Park) and looked into the woods to my right. I noticed bushes filled with white flowers scattered across the forest floor. I had to laugh. It was almost a perfect image of Landomere, the setting of the first four chapters of Eternal Knight. In the novel the flowers are called Everbloom. The funny thing is, when I wrote the book, I wasn't imagining a Pennsylvania forest. At least not consciously. But when I was writing the book my subconscious mind must have pulled out this image, one that I must have seen hundreds of times in my life, but always took for granted.

I won't be able to look at a Pennsylvania forest the same again.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Evil Editor Query Critique

The Evil Editor's critique of my query has arrived. If you take a look at it, the first thing you'll see is "Guess the Plot." This is where other readers of the blog attempt to guess the plot of the book based only on the title. The first one is excellent. With a title like Eternal Knight I was expecting to get several vampire guesses.

Next you'll see a copy of my original query. The Evil Editor inserts comments (in blue). These comments are a mix of humor, snark, and serious critique. Following the query he gives more serious suggestions.

Other readers post their ideas in the comments section. These comments can be just as (or more) useful than the EEs comments.

*edit* You might want to skip the query letter. Query letters always show how a novel is resolved. Don't read it if you want to be surprised when you read the novel.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Still Grinding

If I get published I'll owe a big debt of gratitude to my critique partners. Mike Shultz just got back to me with a third round of comments on my first three chapters. No big changes, but his suggestions definitely improve the novel. Visit Mike's website. He has published several wonderful short stories and his novel Sword of Memory will be published in Germany next year. Visit Mike's website to learn how he managed to get published in German before getting published in English.

I'm about 35% of the way through this round of edits on Eternal Knight. Should be smooth sailing for several chapters. Things will slow down as I fix up the final 25%.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Three Chapters

I sent the first three chapters to my critique partner today. I've done a lot of work on these chapters recently. I thought things were a little too "nice" in Hadde's homeland of Landomere. I decided to significantly increase the level of threat to Hadde and her village. The "ticking clock" just had three months cut off of it. The end of the world is much closer than it used to be.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Mother, mother, her mother, Enna

Here's something I've been going round and round with.

Hadde is the protagonist of the novel. The entire novel is told from her (3rd person) point of view. Hadde's mother's name is Enna. However, Hadde thinks of Enna as "mother".

One issue... how do I introduce Hadde's mother's name if Hadde never uses it or thinks of her that way? I could just write it, but I feel like that would be an intrusion of the the omniscient author.

And how should I write the following?

"What are you doing, Mother?" asked Hadde.
"What are you doing, Enna?" asked Hadde.
"What are you doing, mother?" asked Hadde.

"I'm saving your life," her mother said.
"I'm saving your life," Mother said.
"I'm saving your life," Enna said.

First draft, it was lots of "Mother" and "her mother said."
Second draft, it was "Mother" and "Mother said."

This draft:
"What are you doing, mother?" asked Hadde.
"I'm saving your life," Enna said.

Do other writers go through this?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Progress report

Made some good progress editing tonight. I want to get the first three chapters into my critique partner's hands as soon as possible. From everything I've read the first three chapters are absolutely critical. You have to hook the reader by that point or you'll lose them.

Monday, May 11, 2009

First Five Pages

This is the opening scene from Eternal Knight. I just made some changes tonight, so let me know if you see any slip-ups.

*edit* Just saw that the formatting didn't hold when I cut and pasted. Sorry about that. I moved it to another page.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


I am going to update this blog several days a week. I'll report on my progress with the manuscript and my upcoming plans.

It would be a great favor to me if you would "follow" this blog. You just have to click the "follow" button on the right. Even if you never visit the blog again it will give me moral support knowing that all of my followers are "watching" my progress (even if they aren't).

Tonight I did the last batch of cutting and pasting of large sections of the manuscript. Several scenes needed to be rearranged in order to improve the flow of the novel. Now I need to go back and fix some transitions that were disrupted by the cutting and pasting.

My hope is to have all the editing done in the next few weeks. After that they queries start to fly.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Query Letter

Dear Agent X,

Hadde of Landomere is a huntress who has sworn to protect and provide for her people. The Wasting makes her task impossible: crops are failing, game has disappeared, and strange raiders are invading her forest homeland.

While hunting, Hadde finds a golden necklace. Taking it as a sign that she must do more for her people, she leaves the forest of Landomere for the kingdom of Salador. She plans to sell the necklace for food and other necessities, but she hopes for much more--to gain the aid of the elementar-king of Salador.

Unlike her egalitarian homeland, Salador is a highly stratified, male-dominated world of politics, war, and deceit, teeming with its own problems. Hadde finds herself trapped there when the king, who believes her to be part of a prophecy, refuses to let her go home. Her unlikely romance with the king's brother, Morin, entangles Hadde in a web of Saladoran scheming.

When Morin learns of the discovery of an ancient magical artifact, he takes Hadde with him to recover it. Their journey leads not only to the salvation of Hadde's small village, but to the world itself. It also leads to the loss of her faith in humanity, and the loss of Morin's soul.

I currently teach military history and economics and previously served in the United States Army as a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter pilot. I am also a Revolutionary War reenactor and historical wargamer. In Eternal Knight I used my knowledge of medieval history, economics, religion, and military strategy to create a rich, believable world.

Eternal Knight is a 105,000 word fantasy novel. The manuscript is complete and ready for submission. Thank you for considering my work.


Matt Heppe

Thursday, May 7, 2009

My Goal

For years I have had a goal of publishing a novel. I'll only consider this goal complete if:

1) The novel is published by a legitimate publisher. I will not self-publish.
2) I have to do a book signing. I don't care if the only people who show up are my family members. I will do a signing.
3) I have to get a photograph of me pointing at my book on the bookshelf at a bookstore. My last name is Heppe. This lands me right between Robert Heinlein and Frank Herbert. I'll be insane with joy at the sight of Eternal Knight on a shelf between The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Dune.

What have I done so far?

1) I have a completed 105,000 word manuscript. It is much leaner and meaner than the 220,000 word original.
2) My critique partners have given my manuscript a very thorough going-over.
3) I have unsuccessfully queried over a dozen agents and one publisher. This was with an earlier version of the novel.

Tomorrow: My query letter.